Updated: Sep 26, 2022
This article appeared in the Leadville Daily Herald on September 21, 1882, two years after the death of Texas Jack. John M. Burke was Giuseppina Morlacchi's business manager for several years before 1872, when she joined Texas Jack and his friends Buffalo Bill and Ned Buntline to star in the first stage western, The Scouts of the Prairie. Burke later starred alongside Texas Jack as "Arizona John" for several years, and in 1886 began working again with Buffalo Bill as the promotional manager of The Wild West, a post he would man until 1917, when first Buffalo Bill and later John Burke himself died.
Here, two years after Jack was buried in Leadville's Evergreen Cemetery, Burke notes the deteriorating conditions of Jack's grave and tombstone. The grave marker Burke mentions here was actually stolen from the cemetery, as was the replacement. When Burke returned with Buffalo Bill Cody twenty-six years later, Texas Jack was on his fourth grave marker. Cody and Burke together ensured that Texas Jack was given a fitting memorial, the one that still marks the famous cowboy's final resting place.
From The Leadville Daily Herald, September 21, 1882:
“Twenty years in the profession,” remarked Manager J. M. Burke, of “Old Shipmates,” as he knocked the ashes nonchalantly off the end of his cigar and sent a puff of blue smoke curling up into the otherwise blue ether, “does give a man a little experience with the ups and downs of the life, for let me tell you all is not plain sailing by any manner of means,” and with this the jolly manager patted the HERALD representative good-naturedly on the shoulder, and, leaning back in the carriage, indulged in a good-natured, hearty laugh. The manager and the HERALD man were, at the time the observation quoted above was made, driving towards Evergreen cemetery, where lies buried all that remains earthly of what was but a short couple of years ago one of the finest forms that ever graced manhood’s crown; the remains of one who, had he but taken care of himself, might to-day have been to the fore, and who as it is still lives in the remembrance of all those who appreciate the freedom of frontier life and admire those types of superb physical manhood who became the pioneers of civilization and who, as government scouts and hunters, led the white man step by step into the haunts of the red man and fastnesses where alone the wild game of the Rockies found safety and pasture. It was the grave of John B. Omohundro, better known as “Texas Jack,” the manager and his companion were about to visit, who, all forgotten, or at least uncared for, lies entombed in the bosom of the eternal mountains.
“Give me a sketch of your career,” here interrupted the reporter. This the manager, one of the most modest of men, was at first rather loth to do, and without further preamble gave the following interesting sketch of a professional life that is filled with so piquant an interest as to afford more than an ample apology for its publication.
“Yes; I started out in my theatrical career in the season of 1863 and 1864 at Washington. My first role was that of treasurer of Grover’s theatre there. It was a very exciting period in the history of this nation, and my position naturally brought me in contact with all the great men of the day. The president — Lincoln — I of course knew well. He was a great theatre goer. His assassin, Wilkes Booth, was also a friend of mine, and I remember as if it were only yesterday seeing Booth ride up Four-and-a-Half street on Jim Humphreys’ mare. But enough on that head. Even after this length of time the subject is too painful a one for me to care to dwell on.
"Being in Washington and meeting so many politicians of the day, it is hardly to be wondered at if I became somewhat enamored of public life, so much so, indeed, that when Congressman Green Clay Smith, of Kentucky, who had been appointed to succeed Thomas Francis Meagher as governor of Montana, offered to make me his confidential secretary I jumped at the offer and accompanied him up the Missouri River to Nebraska City. Here our journey was brought to an abrupt termination, as no cavalry escort could be spared to accompany the governor at that time, who was therefore compelled to postpone his journey until the following spring. It was at that time I first heard of Denver, Colorado, which was then looked upon as a sort of oasis in the great desert which lay between the civilized portion of the United States and what is to-day the great west, and in a vague sort of way got an idea of the vastness of the territory into which civilization was pushing so steadily forward.
"On getting back once again to Washington I became associated with C. D. Hess, who was at that time running the Pittsburg theatre, and under his management made my first bow before an enlightened and critical audience as Rosencrans in Hamlet, E. L. Davenport being in the leading role. After these lapse of years it may not be egotistical for me to state that Davenport, after the curtain had fallen, came forward and personally congratulated me upon my interpretation of the role. Hess and I became good friends after that and I remained with him several seasons, occupying the dual role of assistant manager and actor. Finally, we separated and I became a wandering showman in more senses than one, taking charge of a series of Japanese and Arabian combinations, which just at that time were touring the United States.
"As a manager of these, I was not, financially considered, a success, one after another of the companies falling to pieces or into the sheriff’s hands for lack of alimentary paper. This kind of thing could not go on for ever, and I finally determined to confine myself entirely to business management. This determination proved a wise one, for the next venture with which I became associated proved a great financial, as well as theatrical, success. It was the management of M’dmlle Morlacchi and her ballet troupe, which was then the leading terpsichorean venture of the day. Money though in those days was not made quite as quickly as it is now in the theatrical profession, and M’dmlle’s $50,000 clear profit in the live seasons, during which she was under my management, may therefore be considered phenomenal.
"While managing Morlacchi, we toured across the Rockies to San Francisco. On the return journey, happening to stay over at North Platte, Nebraska, with the company, I accidentally met and was introduced to W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and John B. Omohundro (Texas Jack). The following season we played in Chicago at Nixon’s Amphitheatre, and, by chance, Ned Buntline, with Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack, who were to follow us, arrived there while M’dmlle was still playing. Buntline, properly speaking, had no theatrical organization at that time of his own, but so soon as he saw M’dmlle play Naramaiah in “Wept of the Weptonwich,” a standard character in those days, founded on the story of the romance of The Last of the Mohicans, then he conceived the idea of writing a play in which M’dmlle should be the central figure, and which should also introduce his two great western celebrities, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack. When the proposition was made to M’dmlle Morlacchi, it, for some reason, pleased her greatly, and Buntline set to work and wrote the play. I took charge of the company and from the very start scored an immense success, and every one was well satisfied.
"One of the unforeseen outcomes of the associations thus unconsciously brought about, though, was M’dmlle’s marriage to Texas Jack. Theirs was a regular love match, and for a time they lived most happily together. After a time though the combination dissolved, Jack and his wife retiring from the stage for a while, Buffalo Bill to start on his own account, and your humble servant to seek fields and pastures new on which to gain further managerial honors.
"Behold me, therefore, when next I claimed public attention in command of McDonough & Earnshaw’s Wooden-Headed Marionettes. This was a great show and took the public fancy, and as the public interest increased, so in equal ratio did our financial success, until, I, the manager, attained the height of my managerial ambition. Finally the Marionettes departed to Australia. Boynton-suits not having, in those days, been invented, I declined to cross the briny ocean, and remained behind to mourn the departure of the most tractable theatrical combination that was ever boxed up and dispatched across the water or passed under a theatrical manager’s hands.
"My success with the Marionettes having been beyond all precedent, I, after a rest of several months, determined to once again try my hand at management. I wanted, however, a change from the ordinary routine of a theatrical business manager’s duties and so attempted to manage a circus. The company I selected after mature deliberation for the honor was that of the celebrated Dr. Thayer. Thayer’s circus really did require a business manager, and as I have already mentioned I wanted something novel, to me, to manage.
"That I believe is about all I have to say about his venture, unless indeed it be to remark by the way of a valedictory that as a circus manager I did not prove an overwhelming success; in fact, to be absolutely truthful, I proved somewhat of a failure, and way down the Ohio river somehow or another landed circus, manager and all in the hands of the sheriff. This experience, though not being entirely new to me, I did not take too much to heart, and after a respectable interval, during which I studied the dark side of nature pretty thoroughly, “bobbed up serenely” once again in charge of Bartley Campbell’s “Galloy Slave” troupe. Remaining with Campbell long enough to see him thoroughly on his feet, I thereafter attached myself to the fortunes of no less a personage than M. B. Curtis, whose “Samuel of Posen” has become one of the most popular character pieces of acting on the stage. When I took charge of “Samuel,” though, his success was by no means so assured, John T. Ford having made an unsuccessful attempt to float the novelty and the actor.
"With “Samuel” I remained until he began his western tour, in addition to the business management playing the part of Old Winslow, the jeweler, in the play, and just here I may casually remark that, in addition to the business management of many of the pieces I have been connected with, I also took a role, as, for example, with Ned Buntline, where, as Arizona John, I became quite a favorite with the theatre-going public of the day, and, perhaps, it was in appreciation of my talents more as an actor than business manager that Buffalo Bill presented me, many years ago, with the cane I am carrying in my hand to-day.” [The cane is a very handsome ebony one, gold mounted, and bears a characteristic inscription of the donor’s appreciation of the manager.]
“My latest managerial venture is “Old Shipmates.” When I took charge, the drama, though successful as a play, had not begun to be so financially. What it has become you are as well able to appreciate as I am.”
At this moment the carriage, which had been driving slowly through the cemetery grounds, stopped in front of the grave that, save for a border of small stones and a little wooden headboard, was unmarked. “This,” remarked the sexton, “is the grave you are looking for,” and the manager thereupon left the carriage and, bareheaded, approached the grave. There was an inscription on the headboard which he, kneeling down, deciphered with difficulty, for it had been written in pencil and the storms of a winter and heats of a summer had done much to efface its clearness, the following touching epitaph in his wife’s handwriting:
JOHN B. OMOHUNDRO,
Dio te guarda mi querido alma,
Died June 26, 1880.
Tuva, hasta pronto,
They were the last lines penned by the hand of love, who sorrowing over “Jack’s” troubles and indiscretions and yet faithfully followed him through sunshine and sorrow to the grave, and, having laid him there, left him to God’s care and keeping; she could do no more.
Tears were in the manager’s eyes as he remounted. “Poor Jack,” he exclaimed. “He was his own worst enemy. Prosperity did not ruin him, but adversity drove him to the bottle and the bottle led him to an early grave.
“Do you know I can not bear to see his grave thus unmarked, and shall at once set about having a suitable monument erected to mark where lies “a man,” the noblest work of God.”